House of Commons Hansard #163 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was economy.


Opposition Motion—Economic SituationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Opposition Motion—Economic SituationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Opposition Motion—Economic SituationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Opposition Motion—Economic SituationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Opposition Motion—Economic SituationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Opposition Motion—Economic SituationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Nycole Turmel NDP Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I request that the division be deferred until tomorrow, Wednesday, at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

Opposition Motion—Economic SituationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Accordingly, the recorded division stands deferred until tomorrow, at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

Opposition Motion—Economic SituationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe if you were to seek it, you would find the unanimous consent of the House to see the clock as 5:30 p.m.

Opposition Motion—Economic SituationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Is it agreed?

Opposition Motion—Economic SituationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


Opposition Motion—Economic SituationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

January 27th, 2015 / 5:15 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business, as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from November 5, 2014, consideration of the motion that Bill C-627, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act (safety of persons and property), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

5:15 p.m.


Adam Vaughan Liberal Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is a fascinating process that I have become witness to, as I start my second sitting of the House. These private members' bills appear to do something, but would in fact deliver little more beyond the title of the bill.

The events of the last couple of years have shown us the significance of rail safety. However, the trouble is that the bill, which seeks to make us feel safer, would not deliver the resources needed to deliver rail safety, particularly the inspectors. We also know that the problems plaguing the rail industry in our country are far more complex than simply saying we will inspect more.

We agree that providing much better inspection will lead to safety, but it has to be done. To do it, we need to hire inspectors. We also need to take a look at a whole series of other provisions that are contained within the rail infrastructure in our country, and they, too, must be strengthened.

I can give some examples. The reason this issue is of such concern to the residents and the citizens of Canada who I represent is that the northern boundary for our riding is the rail line that the Lac-Mégantic train ran through and the rail line of the Mississauga train derailment a generation ago, which caused unbelievable hardship in my corner of Canada. This rail line has had little in the way of upgrades or upkeep, largely because we have had a federal government that has neglected it. Following the Lac-Mégantic reports, we know that while commitments are made to rail safety, the follow-through is very rarely there.

There is a well known example within my riding. There is a stretch along Dupont Street where, even though we have great separation, not a single fence is secure. In fact, there are holes punched through the fences, usually close to the liquor store and bars, where people criss-cross the tracks. No matter how many times people call the rail companies or petition the government, no inspection is done of the basic safety provisions.

Having all the inspections in the world is all well and good, but if there is no follow-through, as I said, we leave our rail system extraordinarily vulnerable. That is a significant problem.

I have previous experience within the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and as a local councillor. When we ask the fire department if the city is safe, it will tell us yes. However, the reality is, and mayors across the country are speaking to this, that without advanced notice of dangerous goods moving through a city in real time, if an accident occurs and the local fire department does not have real time information, huge problems can follow, despite how many inspections may or may not have happened and how many inspectors there may or may not be.

We know the mayor of Calgary, in particular, has had the most difficult time getting his federal counterparts, including elected representatives, to stick up for cities and communities that have these rail lines moving through them. This is a significant problem, yet this bill, which claims to address rail safety, rolls past it, as it were. It is a problem.

We also know that capital infrastructure has not kept pace with the demands on the rail system. With the difficulties that the Conservative government has had creating pipeline access to tidewater, rail is being used more and more. In fact, the number of railcars rolling through midtown Toronto has dramatically increased. Their weight has dramatically increased as has their frequency. Furthermore, even though there are speed limits posted, but not shared with the public, the speed of trains moving through densely populated areas has also increased.

What do we get? A government that walks away from infrastructure spending, not only for municipalities and provinces, but federal infrastructure spending as well. It is just unacceptable.

Yes, we need more inspectors. The rules need to be tightened. However, the infrastructure needs to be repaired, maintained and sustained, not only for the sake of the economy but for the sake of the safety of people who live near the rail lines. It is not just people in my riding. Right across the country, settlements are strung across the rail lines. This is a significant problem.

The infrastructure spent here is diminished. We are giving up rail lines, not sustaining them. We have opportunities like the one we saw today in St. Thomas in Elgin county, where we can build rail capacity, support infrastructure development, and work with both the public and private rail sector to develop and deliver stronger infrastructure. We do not get a minister going to London. We get some backbenchers going. We do not get a deal in St. Thomas. What we get is the failure to act and to deliver.

It is not just the infrastructure that the government has let fall away. Building the rail capacity and the industrial basis to support a strong rail system is also disappearing from our country.

Rail safety is much more complex than simply having inspectors. If one simply announces that there will be new inspection rules and promises through the bill, through a headline, that there will be more inspectors but does not actually follow through in the budget with real hires, and does not sit down to work with the municipalities, provinces, and private sector rail supply companies, and our partners south of the border to ensure continental rail security, then all one is doing is passing private members' bills.

We support the bill in principle. What we cannot support is the practice, or the lack of practice, on this critical file.

We had a large meeting in my riding a few weeks ago on the issue of rail safety. Are the trains following the rules? Are they even publishing the speed limit so they can be monitored properly? Is rail safety being attended to and are level crossings being eliminated in dense urban settings? On all of these issues, there has been no response beyond simply saying “We are taking care of it and everything should be fine”. We know it is not fine, and that is the problem with the bill.

The bill seeks to comfort a fear that is present in our communities, but there is no follow-through. There is no dollar commitment in the bill. There is no substantial follow-through in building a stronger rail system. As I have said time and time again, when requests are made to the current government, all we see, all we hear, and all we experience is a failure to commit to rail safety and to the development of rail in this country as an alternative to some of the other dangerous practices in moving goods and services.

We need a comprehensive national rail strategy. We need comprehensive infrastructure spending that deals not just with the capacity issues that are challenging us now but also delivers us a new rail future. Unfortunately, what we get is the bill before us, which as I said is just a title. While it can be supported in principle, the practice and performance of the government leaves us very nervous.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

5:20 p.m.


Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the bill brought forward by the member for Winnipeg South Centre, who has done an outstanding job in her first term, the first of many terms in Parliament.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about our government's efforts to improve the safety of Canada's national rail system through current regulatory action and, more specifically, through Bill C-627, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act to further enhance the protection of Canadians, property and the environment.

I believe we all would agree that rail transportation is one of the utmost important modes of mobility in our country. Canada's railways are vitally important to our national economy. They are the most fuel efficient form of transportation in the movement of goods in interdependent transportation systems.

Although Canada's railway system is one of the safest, railways are not without risk. Increased rail traffic means increased chances for rail accidents, which disrupt freight, commuter and passenger services. This leads to lost revenue, increased public costs, reduced productivity for customers and in some cases terrible fatalities.

Canada has a robust rail safety program with strong federal rail safety rules and regulations in place to ensure that the safety and the protection of the public is a top priority.

The Railway Safety Act is the cornerstone of the federal rail safety regime in Canada. It provides Transport Canada with the responsibilities to oversee railway safety through inspectors and audits, supported by strong safety education and awareness.

Under the Railway Safety Act, Transport Canada's rail safety program is responsible for developing, implementing and promoting safety policies, regulation standards and research.

Transport Canada's oversight role includes monitoring railway companies for compliance with rules, regulations and standards, as well as for the overall safety of railway operations through audits, inspections and investigations. It will take appropriate action when required.

Transport Canada monitors and inspects the operation of 31 federally regulated railway companies and approximately 40 local railway companies. Railway safety inspectors located in five regions across the country are key in maintaining and improving the safety of our national rail industry. They inspect railway tracks and equipment and monitor operations on a regular basis.

Following the tragic events in Lac-Mégantic, Transport Canada took decisive action to improve railway safety and the transportation of dangerous goods by requiring that any person who imported or offered the transport of crude oil conduct classification testing, ensure that railway companies shared information with municipalities, which would further support municipal emergency planners and first responders, and that the least crash resistant DOT-111 tank cars be removed from dangerous goods service.

To address the Transportation Safety Board's recommendations in its final report on the Lac-Mégantic derailment, Transport Canada issued an emergency directive that required railway companies to meet standardized minimum requirements for handbrake applications and implement additional physical securement measures. Moreover, Transport Canada is recruiting additional staff to carry out more frequent audits.

Recruiting additional staff with engineering and scientific expertise for oversight of transportation of dangerous goods is another important component of the reforms.

Transport Canada, in response, is also creating a process for increased information sharing with municipalities, and also researching the properties and behaviour of hazardous materials and Canadian crude oil.

To reiterate, in its commitment to a safe rail transportation system, not only for communities across the country but also for Canada's economic well-being and further strengthening of the federal railway safety regulatory regime, Transport Canada has accelerated the development of several key recommendations. To be more precise, the department accelerated the development of five regulatory packages to address the recommendations of the Rail Safety Act review panel on rail safety; to respond to the recommendations of the Office of the Auditor General's fall 2013 report; and to further improve the railway safety and strengthen the department's regulatory oversight and enforcement capacity.

The new railway safety administrative monetary penalties regulations were published in the Canada Gazette, part 2, on October 22, 2014, with a coming into force date of April 1, 2015. The regulations introduced a new tool in the rail safety program's enforcement regime that could be used to ensure compliance with the Rail Safety Act, as well as regulations, rules, orders, and emergency directives made under it.

Amendments to the transportation information regulation would improve data reporting requirements to better identify and address safety risks before accidents happen. This would improve safety by supporting better planning and performance measurement, allowing for more focused audits and inspections and targeted programs that address specific safety issues.

New railway safety management systems regulations are being developed to replace the existing regulations that came into force on March 31, 2001. They were the first of their kind in the federal transportation sector and introduced a formal framework that helps railway companies integrate safety into their day-to-day operations.

Besides increasing our level of protection from accidents and negligence, these new regulations would further advance a strong and enduring safety culture in the railway industry for years to come.

In addition to these regulatory actions stemming from the review, Transport Canada is also developing grade crossings regulations to efficiently manage and enable safer grade crossings. This would lead to reductions in collisions, fatalities, injuries, and property damage, and the potential for environmental disasters resulting from a spill of dangerous commodities. All individuals who use grade crossings, whether they are walking, driving a car, or a passenger on a train, would benefit from improved safety.

All these regulations are ·expected to come into force within the next year to build upon the existing strong rail safety program and federal railway safety rules and regulations in place to ensure the safety and protection of the public. They all complement Bill C-627 to provide Canadians with the safest railway system possible.

Furthermore, the Government made a commitment in the 2013 Speech from the Throne to ensure that adequate resources will be available to hold federally regulated railways accountable in the event of an incident.

The Railway Safety Act provides the department with the power to protect people, property, and the environment from potential harm by ensuring that railways operate safely within a national framework.

Under the Railway Safety Act, Transport Canada has a variety of tools available to enforce compliance and to respond to safety concerns or threats to safe railway operations, such as a notice and order to respond to threats to safe railway operations, a ministerial order to inform a regulated party of a particular rail safety problem and ordering them to address that problem, and prosecution.

There are many efforts to make our national railway system safer. Our nation was built on the railway and we will grow stronger with a safer railway as we move forward into the 21st century.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on behalf of the residents of Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert on a matter as important as railway safety. I have met with them on numerous occasions to hear what they had to say about this issue. I can say that they are very worried and they are calling for more stringent regulations to be put in place and, most importantly, to be enforced.

It is true that additional safety measures have been taken since the terrible accident in Lac-Mégantic in July 2013 in relation to the transportation of dangerous goods, but we can do more and we have to do better.

Bill C-627, which we are debating today, would give the Minister of Transport and railway safety inspectors the power to order a railway company or the owners of a crossing to do certain work, not only where railway safety is threatened, but also where the safety of persons and property is threatened. For example, the bill would allow the minister to issue an order requiring that a company take corrective measures in a case where barriers continued to malfunction on a track.

As a result, if I am interpreting this bill correctly, this implies that the minister is going to have each section of track inspected and that she could require the companies to take measures to improve safety.

On paper, this bill would meet the expectations of the people calling for more pedestrian crossings and more investment in making those crossings safe. However, it does not answer all the essential questions, such as how frequently these inspections will be done, and with what resources.

The railway safety budget was cut by $5 million between 2012 and last year. This means that every year, there is a reduction in the railway safety budget. In addition, this bill talks about level crossings. The government already has a program for level crossings, but the money allocated to it is not being spent. There is apparently $3 million intended for improving level crossings left over.

My colleague from Brossard—La Prairie went to meet with the people of Verchères, next to my riding. The municipal councillors told him about something interesting. The municipality of Verchères applied for a grant from the grade crossing improvement program in 2010, to put up a safety barrier. Well, to date, it is still on a waiting list.

Now, they would have us believe that this bill will change things, and starting today, the Conservative government is going to listen to Canadians and provide them with safe level crossings? The government had money to invest in level crossings, but it has still done nothing. They must think we are fools.

The second clause of the bill caught my attention. The bill would give railway inspectors the power to forbid the use of railway works or equipment if it poses a threat to the safety of persons or property.

The Auditor General and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada have clearly said that the department does not have enough resources. The department itself is refusing to say how many qualified inspectors can conduct these audits.

We know that Transport Canada’s Rail Safety Directorate is underfunded. It does not have enough staff and the employees it does have do not have enough training.

According to the Auditor General's fall 2013 report, Transport Canada needs about 20 system inspectors to audit each of the federal railway companies every three years. Right now, the department does not have that many qualified inspectors to conduct those audits. That is not very reassuring in terms of enforcing this bill.

There are still too many deaths and serious accidents at level crossings. Protecting the public and the environment basic government responsibilities. Self-regulation and self-inspection are not working. The government must address the lack of oversight and inadequate audits. In 2009, there were 19 deaths related to level crossing accidents. In 2013, that number rose to 31.

In my riding, there was a serious accident in 2013 because there was no pedestrian crossing. How many similar cases are there in other ridings?

The NDP has long called for the federal government to tighten the grade crossing regulations and implement the TSB’s recommendations. The private member’s bill contains some good elements. The government—and I do in fact mean the government—must undertake a complete review of the railway safety regulations and how they are enforced and find ways to improve them, rather than depending on private members’ bills.

Obviously, I intend to vote in favour of measures that can improve level crossing safety or railway safety in general, but the government cannot shirk its duties. It has to take full responsibility for railway safety. A rigorous evaluation of the state of railway safety in the country is needed and we need to make that happen.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Kitchener—Waterloo Ontario


Peter Braid ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure and Communities

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise this evening to speak in support of Bill C-627.

I want to begin by congratulating my colleague, the member for Winnipeg South Centre, for putting forward such an excellent bill, for representing the interests and concerns of her constituents so effectively, and for coming to Ottawa to make a positive change. Her constituents should be very proud of her.

Bill C-627, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act (safety of persons and property), aims to provide greater protection to persons and property from risks inherent in railway operations.

The amendments proposed in this bill would emphasize the authority of the Minister of Transport and railway safety inspectors to intervene when required in the interests of the safety of Canadians and for the protection of property and the environment. It would be a step forward in supporting a comprehensive railway safety program and strong railway safety rules and regulations already in place to further strengthen the safety and protection of the public.

Before I describe this initiative further, I will highlight some of the important history of Canadian railway safety legislation.

For many years, the safety of Canada's federal railways was regulated under the Railway Act, originating at the turn of the 19th century when Canada's railway system was rapidly expanding. The Railway Act was designed for a bygone era. At that time, much of the national rail system was under construction to open new territory across this great land and to encourage settlement.

Let us fast-forward to 1989 when the Railway Act was replaced by the Railway Safety Act, which was designed to achieve the objectives of national transportation policy relating to the safety of railway operations, and to address the many changes that had taken place in the rail transportation industry in the years leading up to the changes. It was a time of privatization and restructuring, supported by a new federal policy that separated economic and safety legislation to provide the railway companies with the flexibility they needed to grow and prosper.

The Railway Safety Act gave direct jurisdiction over safety matters to the Minister of Transport, to be administered by Transport Canada, where responsibility for other federally regulated modes of transportation resides. Today, railway safety regulation continues to be governed by the Railway Safety Act, which was developed in a spirit of co-operation between industry and government. The act moved away from a one-size-fits-all regulatory approach to one that set objectives in rules and encouraged the responsibility of railway companies to target these rules toward their own unique safety and operational conditions.

Transport Canada undertakes its responsibility to maintain a safe national rail system through policy and regulatory development, through outreach and education, and through oversight and enforcement of the rules and regulations it implements under the authority of the Railway Safety Act. As I mentioned, the Railway Safety Act was developed in a spirit of co-operation between industry and government. To facilitate a modern, flexible and efficient regulatory regime that will ensure the continuing enhancement of railway safety, the act provides for detailed safety requirements to be developed either by the government in the form of regulations or developed by industry in the form of rules. The act provides the minister with the ultimate authority to approve or reject industry proposals on the grounds that they are or are not conducive to safe railway operations.

Once approved, all rules have the force of law, and Transport Canada has broad powers to require a rule, a rule change, or development of its own regulation in areas laid out in the act. In the interests of railway and public safety, the Minister of Transport can order a company to formulate or revise a rule. If the industry refuses to comply, the minister can independently establish the rules.

Fundamentally, the legislative framework recognizes the responsibility of railway companies, like any other companies, for the safety of their own operations, and the federal government, through Transport Canada, retains the responsibility and the power to protect people, property, and the environment by ensuring that the railway companies operate safely within the national legislative framework.

There are currently l6 rules and seven engineering standards under the Railway Safety Act. The main rules cover rail operations, freight car safety, and track safety. These distinctions make Canada's railway system strong, and concrete action has been taken throughout the years to make it even stronger.

Since its introduction, the act has been amended twice, the first time in 1999 to fully modernize the legislative and regulatory framework of Canada's rail transportation system and to make railway companies more responsible for managing their operations safely. It also gave the general public and interested parties greater input into issues of rail safety.

On May 1, 2013, the act was amended again to further improve railway safety, reflect changes in the industry, and make the act consistent with legislation for other modes of transport. The amendments increased safety and consistency by strengthening the department's oversight and enforcement capacity, enhancing the implementation of safety management systems, increasing the importance of environmental management, and clarifying the authority and responsibilities of the Minister of Transport with respect to railway matters.

The amendments also clarified that railway safety inspectors exercise their powers under the authority of the minister and that the minister may enter into agreements with provinces on matters relating to railway safety, railway security, and the protection of the environment.

Over the past 20 years, we have seen significant changes in the rail industry, including industry restructuring, the privatization of CN, the proliferation of short lines, and the rapid growth in freight, passenger, and commuter rail services. Rail traffic between Canada and the U.S. has grown, and expanding trade with Asia has increased international container traffic through west coast ports.

As my brief outline illustrates, rail safety legislation has greatly evolved over the years to keep up with the expanding population, economic growth, and emerging technologies. This bill is the next step toward an even stronger legislative framework, putting even more emphasis on protecting the safety of Canada's most important resource, our people.

Bill C-627 proposes to amend the Railway Safety Act to provide the Minister of Transport with the express authority to disregard objections received for proposed railway work if the work is in the public interest; to expand railway safety inspectors' authority to restrict a railway's operations when its operations pose a threat to safety, including when the threat impacts the safety of a person or property; and finally, to add a new ministerial order to allow the Minister of Transport to direct a company to take specified corrective measures if railway operations pose a significant threat to persons, property, or the environment.

To summarize, the proposed amendments in the bill would increase the safety of Canadians, enhance the safety of our communities, and contribute to a stronger economy, a modern infrastructure, and a cleaner environment by providing the Minister of Transport with additional enforcement authority to further protect Canadians' property and the environment.

They align with the objective in the Railway Safety Act to “promote and provide for the safety and security of the public and personnel, and the property and the environment, in railway operations.”

We believe that these proposed amendments are timely. We are once again modernizing the Railway Safety Act to reflect the verifiably increasing requirements for public and railway safety, and these are changes all Canadians can agree upon.

In our 2013 Speech from the Throne, we included a commitment that the government would take targeted action to increase the safety of the transportation of dangerous goods. The bill is yet another testament that we intend to deliver on the commitment we made to Canadians.

In the interest of all Canadians, I urge all hon. members to give the bill their unanimous support.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member raising this matter in the House, because it is a matter that is extremely critical to my constituents and, frankly, all Albertans.

The issue of rail safety is top of mind in Edmonton—Strathcona. Our riding is laced with rail lines, crossings, terminals, and loading for petrochemicals and bitumen. Up until about a month ago, tanker cars of bitumen and chemicals sat right in the centre of Edmonton—Strathcona, right in the busiest section of historic Old Strathcona.

Much to the delight of my constituents and to everybody's surprise in the city of Edmonton, Canadian Pacific has announced that it is now considering selling off some of those properties. I am very pleased. I have been working with city councillors, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and my constituents, trying to get Canadian Pacific to think seriously about improving safety for my constituents, let alone the nuisance of having rush-hour traffic backed up.

Rail safety is top of mind. However, it is not just the issue of inconvenience or the risk to residents. About a decade ago, the largest spill off a railroad into fresh water in North America occurred in a lake where, for four generations, my family has had property, Wabamun Lake. To this day, a good portion of that Bunker C and pole oil remains in the bottom of that lake. Nobody knows what will happen to it.

There is, of course, heightened concern in that Wabamun community of residents to monitoring what is going on with train loads, the speeds, the state of the rail lines, and the crossings. I get repeated calls from residents out in that area, very concerned that the inspection is not catching a lot of the concerns.

I have heard from residents in Slave Lake, Alberta, with concerns that a rail bridge there that was partly burned out is not being maintained. Of course, at Christmastime this past year we witnessed the derailment in Banff National Park and the dumping of hazardous substances into a very important fishery in our national park.

Rail safety is top of mind to people in Edmonton—Strathcona, all Albertans, and all Canadians. Of course, Lac-Mégantic is one of the most recent incredible tragedies that could have been prevented if we had better measures in place and better enforcement.

Rail safety is a critical issue. We just heard that from one of the government members, and the government even said in its throne speech that the federal government is going to take action and it will be tabling legislation on rail safety. However, this is coming through a private member's bill, which of course raises the question about why the government is not coming forward with an omnibus bill with many long-awaited measures that the Transportation Safety Board has identified even as recently as in the Lac-Mégantic review.

It is time for the federal government to act, because railroads are 100% regulated by the federal government. My community, as with communities across Canada, lives with the frustration of being left trying to negotiate with the rail companies to address these kinds of issues, including safety issues at rail crossings, because the federal government has simply not stepped forward.

We need improved legislation, improved regulations, and more inspectors, but we also need the federal government to embrace this portfolio more deeply and to step forward and work with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which is trying to address these issues.

In tabling the bill, the member for Winnipeg South Centre suggested that the amendment she has tabled will, if passed, grant additional powers to the minister to intervene to improve safety at all regulated grade crossings. She mentions there are 14,000 public crossings and 9,000 private crossings, which is 23,000 crossings. I guess the obvious question is this. Can Canadians anticipate that, when this legislation comes forward, we are going to immediately have 23,000 crossing addressed? We have heard many members in the House raise concerns. Where is the additional manpower?

The amendments are puzzling for a number of reason. One of the most apparent ones is that the essence of those amendments appears to already be in the act. Very recently the government came forward and actually amended the law. In section 4(4), it actually clarified that railway operations are safely operated when there is a threat to railway operations that impact property and persons and so forth.

Later on section (4.1) was added, which specifically says:

For the purposes of this Act, a threat is a hazard or condition that could reasonably be expected to develop into a situation in which a person could be injured or made to be ill or damage could be caused to the environment or property, and a threat is immediate if such a situation already exists.

I am left puzzled as to how these proposed amendments are going to fit with the amendments the government only recently made. It would be useful to take a look at those in committee to see if they actually are needed, or if the committee needs to address some of the amendments the government only recently brought forward. The intent is good, but I am puzzled why these measures need to be added when the government seems to have already done so.

Of more concern is that at a time when communities are desperately begging the government to give them a greater voice in the kind of rail traffic going through communities, such as at what speed, the length of trains, and the types of cargo being carried, this bill would actually diminish the rights of concerned communities and property owners to seek reviews or upgrades where the risks are to health, environment, or property. It would actually give the minister power to ignore the objection and concern. At committee, it would be very important to take a look at the wording, because it does not enable communities to have greater voice. It would diminish that power.

The powers assigned to the Minister of Transport to issue orders and corrective measures are good. There are a lot of those already in the bill. I would recommend, consistent with what most environmental laws now provide, that those powers be immediately assigned to inspectors, the field inspectors who are in the community and witnessing where there are dangerous situations, so they can immediately be empowered to take action. That is something else I suggest the committee take a look at.

The act already empowers the cabinet to issue regulations for rail crossing safety. Apparently, the government has not moved it forward. I look forward to being corrected on that. Otherwise, surely the member would not have felt it necessary to come forward with amendments to the statute. That is another thing that could be looked at.

Finally, I look forward to this matter being brought before this place. I am deeply concerned that one of our major industrial sectors, the rail sector, has increased its shipments of dangerous cargo, including raw bitumen, petrochemicals, and so forth more than a thousandfold in the last couple of years. Yet the government has not seen fit to amend the Canadian Transportation Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. A review of that increased traffic of hazardous substances would allow for an environmental impact assessment.

The government member who spoke before me pointed out that this is a growing industrial sector. There has been increased traffic, including of hazardous substances, and yet the government has not seen fit to amend its laws to make sure that this kind of activity undergoes at least a proper environmental screening and assessment so that the communities that might be impacted could have a voice in that decision-making.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.


Cathy McLeod ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour and for Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand to speak to private member's Bill C-627. I also want to congratulate the member for Winnipeg South Centre on a bill that really reflects the needs that she saw in her own riding. It is very interesting. As we look at this particular bill and speak to it, we are all looking at our ridings and what the impact might be on them. We heard from different members about having a lot of rail running through their ridings. I myself represent Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, which is 45,000 square kilometres. We have CN, which runs from the Alberta border down through Edmonton to Vancouver, and we have CP, which goes through the Calgary route. When I heard the number of crossings mentioned by the previous member, I was thinking that perhaps the bill would have an extraordinarily higher effect in my riding, because out of those 18,000 or 23,000 crossings, the riding I represent has quite a number of them.

When I was first heading into the election campaign of 2008, I certainly remember going across one of the highways in the region. We were suddenly warned to slow down and go very slowly, because this was a very hazardous crossing. In this way I was first introduced to a very hazardous crossing very early in my election campaign. Of course, I am very pleased to see that there have been improvements.

It is important to reflect that the vast majority of the crossings in our country are well maintained, but there are instances and circumstances that make this particular bill both appropriate and necessary.

As a government, we are committed to the safety and the security of Canadian communities. I think we all agree that ensuring a safe, dependable, and modern transportation system is essential to supporting the continuing advancement and prosperity of this country. It is for that reason that I am very proud, as I mentioned earlier, to support Bill C-627, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act (safety of persons and property).

Many of us have spoken about the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic. Members will recall that Transport Canada took immediate action to further improve railway safety and transportation of dangerous goods. I want to quickly itemize some of them: classification testing for shipments of crude oil; increased information-sharing with municipalities to facilitate emergency planning; and the removal of the least crash-resistant DOT-111 tank cars from dangerous goods service.

I have had conversations with a number of the members of the FCM who were at the rail transportation safety committee. They have been very pleased with their conversations with our minister in terms of her responsiveness to the concerns they identified.

To build on these actions, Transport Canada responded to the Transportation Safety Board's recommendations by issuing an emergency directive that requires railway companies to meet standardized minimum requirements for handbrake application and to implement additional securement measures.

Transport Canada is also in the process of recruiting additional staff to carry out more frequent audits, recruiting additional staff with engineering and scientific expertise to oversee the transportation of dangerous goods, creating new processes to increase information-sharing with municipalities, and conducting additional research on the hazards of Canadian crude oil.

In addition to these departmental actions, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities has launched a comprehensive review of the state of railway safety in this country. Among other things, this review specifically targets the issues of railway safety, management systems, and the transportation of dangerous goods. It will further increase our understanding of the challenges and opportunities related to rail safety.

Since its introduction, the Railway Safety Act has been amended twice. It was first amended in 1999 in order to provide for a fully modern framework for Canada's rail transportation system. This framework was truly progressive, making railways more responsible for managing their operations safely.

More recently, the act was amended on May 1, 2013, in order to further improve rail safety and to reflect the industry's evolution. To keep pace with industry changes, the amendments further strengthened the department's oversight and enforcement capacity, enhanced the implementation of safety management systems, increased the importance of environmental management, and clarified ministerial authority and responsibilities.

This bill, which would enhance the power of the minister and inspectors to intervene when people and property are at risk, is the next step towards an even stronger piece of legislation and a stronger legislative framework, putting even more emphasis on pre-emptive prevention and the protection of Canada's most important resource: its people.

Approval of this bill would be an important step in supporting a comprehensive railway safety program that would further strengthen the safety and protection of the public. Without a doubt, modernizing the Rail Safety Act to reflect the increasing requirements for public and railway safety is timely.

These are changes that few Canadians can argue about. In listening to the debate so far this evening, it appears that few parliamentarians can argue against them either. Without a doubt, modernizing the Railway Safety Act to reflect the increasing requirements for public and railway safety is timely, and these changes Canadians can agree with.

In closing, many ridings throughout this country have rail lines running through them, and we all recognize the critical importance of the rail system in transportation. I understand that almost 60% of what is transported by rail is destined for export markets, which is a critical part of our economy. Obviously, it is of great importance to match or balance our support for prosperity and jobs with making sure that it is as safe as possible.

I congratulate the member for Winnipeg South Centre on a very positive and important measure.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Joyce Bateman Conservative Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is always a great honour to speak in the House of Commons as a member of Parliament representing Winnipeg South Centre. Today it is a double honour, and indeed a great pleasure, to have the opportunity to thank all of my colleagues on all sides of the House of Commons for their support and interest in my private member's bill, Bill C-627.

My private member's bill proposes amendments to the Railway Safety Act that would help ensure the safety and security of all Canadians. I am thrilled that after I identified a specific legislative gap regarding remediation at rail crossings, which is very helpful for rail safety in urban settings, I have been joined by so many of my colleagues in filling that gap to better protect Canadians.

The amendments I proposed to the Railway Safety Act would give additional powers to the Minister of Transport to intervene when required on an issue of safety and would help ensure the safety of Canadian citizens and our communities. Additionally, this proposed legislation seeks to empower railway safety inspectors so that they may quickly intervene to restrict the use of unsafe work and equipment and to forbid or restrict the use of unsafe crossing work or road crossings. I believe this bill is part of the continuing evolution and improvement of rail safety standards that we all value.

Our government takes the safety of Canadians and the Canadian rail system very seriously. It is committed to ensuring that appropriate levels of safety are always maintained. As members are well aware, our record as a government on rail safety is impressive, and I would really like to single out the hon. Minister of Transport for her leadership as well as her very hard-working parliamentary secretary. This is a vast responsibility that touches the life of every Canadian and the well-being of every Canadian family. I am very grateful to contribute to enhancing our record of rail safety for Canadians with the content of my private member's bill, Bill C-627.

I thank all of my colleagues for their support and I truly appreciate the response I have received to the various communications on my bill that I have sent to every member of the House of Commons.

As my colleagues, the hon. member for Kitchener—Waterloo and the hon. member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, noted in their remarks, there is no greater privilege than to serve the needs of our constituencies. With this bill, I have enhanced the safety of my constituents in Winnipeg South Centre and, happily, also the safety of every Canadian.

I thank the members of the House of Commons and ask each one of them for their support for Bill C-627.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The time provided for private members' business is now expired.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Canadian HeritageAdjournment Proceedings

6:10 p.m.


Annick Papillon NDP Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure for me to talk about issues that matter to Quebec City in the House.

In December 2014, I asked a question about a major and highly anticipated event, the 2017 tall ships. Quebec City would like to host about 40 tall ships as part of the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation.

From what I understand, the City submitted its detailed proposal to the government in May 2013, but it has yet to receive an answer. There has been nothing but radio silence. We have no idea whether the Conservatives plan to support this project.

I would like to point out that we are just days away from a deadline, which is in February. A decision about this project needs to be made this week. If the federal government does not get on board with the plan, the City of Quebec can withdraw its bid in February 2015 at the latest. The Quebec City tall ships project could be compromised if the federal government does not confirm funding in the next few days.

We have heard nothing but radio silence from the Minister of Canadian Heritage on this, despite the many times she has risen in the House to say that she understands how important the 150th anniversary is to Quebec City. It is indeed very important, and we want things to be done right. Unfortunately, even though she came to Quebec City many times last summer and fall, we have not had an answer. Frankly, it is disappointing, because we expect an answer. We need one soon in order to set the budget. The year 2017 is just around the corner. We are talking about booking 40 prestigious tall ships that could sail up and down the St. Lawrence and stop in Quebec City for us. It is important to be able to take care of things in advance so that they are done properly and budgets are respected.

Unfortunately, we now see that the Conservative government desperately lacks any vision, given that it has completely abandoned international events that draw millions of tourists and generate huge economic spinoffs. We know that in the tourism sector, one dollar invested translates into seven dollars in direct economic spinoffs. That is important.

The federal government had a program to help major festivals in the country, but since that program was eliminated in 2011, subsidies for festivals in Quebec have gone from 24% to 18%. We all know that just last year, the Conservatives decided to reduce the budget of the Canadian Tourism Commission by 20%. It is a marketing budget that helps these events get exposure and brings national and international tourists to just about every corner of Quebec, which is very profitable for us.

Someone very important to us reminded us that we want more money in order to generate more economic spinoffs. That someone is Daniel Gélinas, director general of the Quebec City summer festival, a huge festival that puts on more than 300 shows every summer. It is high time to get on board with this.

The Conservatives' inaction and the lack of funding has already created victims. The International Festival of Military Bands in Quebec City has folded after 15 years. It is important to remember that the Festival of Military Bands in Quebec City was so extraordinary that it attracted people and bands from all over. People came to Quebec City to learn from this expertise, knowing that such a massive and top-notch event could be organized.

I find it very unfortunate that we cannot keep running these events, especially because the federal government would just have to contribute a modest amount given that the provincial and municipal governments were on board. The initiative only required a little support.

With the disappearance of the International Festival of Military Bands in Quebec City, we wonder today whether Quebec City will have to cancel another international event, the very exciting Rendez-vous 2017 tall ships regatta, because of the Conservatives' inaction.

Canadian HeritageAdjournment Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

St. Catharines Ontario


Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the member's comments.

Whether as a municipal councillor over the years, as an employee of the provincial government, or here as a federal member of Parliament in the House of Commons, when I negotiate things on behalf of the people in my riding, I certainly want to defend them in the House of Commons and I certainly want to promote them in the House of Commons. However, I find that when I negotiate on behalf of my riding, on behalf of the region of Niagara, I am a lot more successful in those negotiations when I do them behind closed doors. I do not attempt to criticize those who are within a particular ministry to assist them in achieving the goal, which the member for Québec City is trying to do. I find that being critical publicly does not always enhance one's ability to succeed in assisting those she obviously cares deeply for in her riding.

Tourism makes an important contribution to the Canadian economy, with 618,000 direct jobs across Canada, including in Niagara and the riding of Québec City. Last year, tourism revenue in this country was just under $85 billion.

The Government of Canada is proud to support initiatives that bring clear economic tourism benefits to communities across our country. We have made significant federal investments and support the industry, underlining the importance of tourism to the local, provincial, and Canadian economy.

The Department of Canadian Heritage provided funding for the 2014 SAQ New France Festival, which helped visitors to Québec City discover the history and the way of life of North America's first European settlers.

The department also provided funding to allow the l’Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario to organize artistic and cultural activities during the festival and to extend its reach outside of Québec. We also saw investments provided for the festival's 2013 and 2014 editions through the Québec economic development program

The Government of Canada also supported the Festival d’été de Québec in 2014 and 2015. Taxpayers across this country invested significantly in programs from Canadian Heritage to offer a wide range of musical performances, street theatre, circus arts, and more. This was in addition to the funds provided to the Québec economic development program to promote and market the festival internationally in both 2013 and 2014.

This year the Department of Canadian Heritage provided significant funding to the 2014 edition of the Rendez-vous naval de Québec.

In 2014, as in past years, we supported many projects that benefited Québec City and helped to raise the profile of the greater Québec region. I would argue that the member herself has applauded some of these investments. She in fact bragged a bit about them when the opportunity arose in her riding to talk about the investments made, in part, by the efforts she put forward.

Canada's 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017 will provide an opportunity to reflect on what we have achieved as a country, to promote a sense of strong pride among Canadians, and to inspire a bright future for Canada in Québec and across our country.

We are well aware of the timelines and the required plan to prepare for Rendez-vous 2017. It is an ambitious and attractive project in the context of the 150th anniversary of our Confederation. We are consulting, discussing, negotiating, and preparing. The member will be happy to know that Québec City is going to be included in a significant way in those celebrations.